At the Detroit motor show this time last year, Cadillac chief marketing officer Uwe Ellinghaus spelled out the future of his rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan platforms in no uncertain terms.
“[Future] platform and component sharing is the name of the game to reduce costs,” the German-born ex-BMW executive told CarAdvice.
“We think about this, and it really isn’t impacting on customer benefit where you do not see or feel something we are well advised to go down this route,” he continued, before commenting on the need to not simply re-badge a product.
“Of course the immediately visible areas of the car like the interior, everybody must say unmistakably Cadillac as much as the exterior design says unmistakable Cadillac.”
It’s no surprise that only General Motors insiders have confirmed the just-released, Australian-designed Buick Avenir concept is underpinned by the company’s brand new Omega platform set for application in the 2016 Cadillac CT6 – or the American luxury division’s new S-Class and 7 Series rival.
The Avenir, then, is not just an important project for the Holden design team, but a crucial first step to sharing a rear-wheel-drive platform beyond a single brand within GM.
While officially the Avenir is just a concept, GM Australia design director Richard Ferlazzo (below) made no bones about this leading to a production vehicle.
“Concept cars can be just for promoting a brand, but not in this case,” begins Ferlazzo.
“These things [like Avenir] are about exploring real opportunities, then you find something that fits under it.”
Asked directly whether he would like to see the Avenir go into production, Ferlazzo replied, “For sure, that’s why we do these.”
Buick has been like a phoenix rising for General Motors over the past five years, sustaining growth for every single one of those years, and avoiding death like Pontiac largely on the back of huge Chinese growth.
Now the second largest GM brand by volume, Buick - pitched as a luxury brand one tier below the edgier Cadillac - recorded the highest sales in its 111-year history in 2014, with 1.2 million units shifted – a massive 929,000 in China and 250,000 in the US where it outsold Audi and Infiniti.
Since the Chinese market loves large, traditional, elegant luxury sedans, the Avenir makes sense to lead the renewed focus on a brand that most recently simply had its badges slapped on Opel products.
Its huge sales now means GM can afford to pay for its own cars.
“What we’re finding is the Buick brand is building a lot of momentum, both here and obviously in China, so we have opportunities to invest and expand the portfolio,” explains GM president Dan Ammann.
“Buick is part of the General Motors family and we make use of those global scales and global portfolio that we have, and we’re going to bring the best vehicles to market for a particular customer.
“We obviously have some great rear-wheel-drive architectures, and obviously this is a concept and we’ll see what the reaction is.”
Not just for the reason of being a 5.2-metre-long, rear-wheel-drive sedan concept – the exact configuration of our local Holden Caprice – the Australian design team that penned and built the Avenir have been tagged as naturals to style a modern Buick.
Says Avenir’s Australian chief interior designer, Frank Rudolph: “Ed [Welburn – vice president of GM design] seems to think we’ve got the Buick feel in our blood, that it’s quite natural for us to work on a Buick.”
Ferlazzo added that his team loved designing the Caprice-sized Buick, “for all the same things [as VF].”
“This car captures the essence of Buick, which has always been sculptural, sensual surfacing and an imposing road presence. All the old Buicks had that and they can rightfully claim to that because it’s what set them apart many, many years ago.
“But it’s not about re-living years … it’s about taking it back to where that philosophy started.
“This is an elegant gentleman’s car for the bloke who’s still young at heart. Four-door coupe proportions, long dash-to-axle ratio, it’s got to look lively and athletic even though it’s large.”
Welburn not only had high praise for the Australian designers of the Avenir, but committed to involving them on the design of a production version if one was to happen … only not on our shores.
“If the Buick concept were to go into production, let’s just say it was executed in North America, I would want some members of the Holden team that were involved in it to travel with the vehicle and be a part of that team,” Welburn said.
“They’ve got ownership [of it], and they’ve lived with it. If you just hand it over to another team, that’s difficult because the other team is gonna be like ‘Oh, I’ve got a better idea here’.
“I guess that’s why they’ve got me to ensure it does not change.”
But with GM sharing platforms and essentially planning to re-skin the same cats without delving into re-badging, could a Buick production car translate to a future Holden once the Caprice ends production when local manufacturing ends in 2017?
To that proposal, Welburn says: “Could be interesting, I don’t know.”
“I want to consult a bit with our designers there,” he continued.
“I spent a bit of time in Australia, and I think I know Holden quite well, but they know it even better than I do. I wonder if the design is a hair too romantic for Holden.
“If I were designing it as a Holden from the start I think the rear wouldn’t be quite as swoopy.
“Holden’s are generally a bit more of a ‘spline line’ rather than a musical line.”
But Welburn also adds that, “The [Avenir] concept from a design language could be an Opel, though it may be a little big.”
Meanwhile Ferlazzo says that although the Avenir was never designed with Holden in mind, the basic surfacing is intended to be globally usable and appealing.
“I think the type of car it is could be quite universal because it’s stylish and still quite light and athletic so that you could sell anywhere,” he opines.
“The whole idea is … how do you style for the globe? That’s a great challenge for any designer now, but this is the way we’re answering it, with beautiful surfacing that everyone can enjoy.
“You don’t have to be a certain culture to enjoy surfacing.”